Hepatitis C
  • Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver
  • It is estimated that there are over 50,000 people in New Zealand living with Hepatitis C, but only half are currently diagnosed
Hepatitis C

    Hepatitis C

    Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver caused by the Hepatitis C Virus (HCV). It is one of several types of hepatitis viruses that cause inflammation and affect usual liver functions. It is estimated that there are over 50,000 people in New Zealand living with Hepatitis C, but only half are currently diagnosed. Hepatitis C can go undiagnosed for many years, and if left unchecked for an extended period of time, liver cirrhosis can develop, and eventually lead to liver cancer.
    Transmission 
    Hepatitis C is most commonly spread when the blood of an infected person enters the blood of a person who is not infected. This often happens through sharing needles and other equipment for drug injection.

    Risk is RELATIVELY LOW for:
    Vaginal sex, anal sex (top AND bottom), sharing sex toys

    Risk is HIGH for:
    Sharing needles, syringes, and other equipment to inject drugs

    Even if someone with Hepatitis C does not experience symptoms, they can still spread the virus to others.
    Symptoms 
    Approximately 70%-80% of people infected with Hepatitis C do not have symptoms. The symptoms that arise most commonly:
    • Fever
    • Tiredness or fatigue
    • Loss of appetite
    • Nausea
    • Abdominal pain
    • Jaundice (yellow colour in the skin and eyes)
    If symptoms do occur, they usually present themselves 6-7 weeks after infection. The symptoms can last between 2-6 months. Even if a person with Hepatitis C has no symptoms, they can still spread the virus to others.
    Hepatitis C and HIV co-infection 
    HIV and Hepatitis C co-infection means that a person has both HIV and Hepatitis C. About 25% of all Hepatitis C infections are in gay men who are also living with HIV, and a big challenge these men face is that HIV and Hepatitis C both make the body more vulnerable to infection. This means that HIV can increase the risk of complications due to Hepatitis C, and Hepatitis C can increase the chances of passing or getting HIV.

    In general, co-infection can make the effects and symptoms of Hepatitis C worse. Liver damage can happen more quickly, and the immune system can become severely weakened.

    Both HIV and Hepatitis C are slow-acting viruses, so people can be infected for years with either virus without having any symptoms of illness. The only way to know if you have HIV and Hepatitis C is to get tested.

    Get Tested

    You can get tested for Hepatitis C with a blood test from your GP.

    Get Treated

    There are two treatments that are PHARMAC funded that can be used to treat Hepatitis C; Harvoni and Viekira Pak. They are highly effective within 12 weeks. Talk to your GP about getting these medications if you have tested positive for Hepatitis C.

    Get Vaccinated

    There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C. If you are an injection drug user, the surest way to prevent the spread of Hepatitis C take serious precaution when injecting drugs. This means avoiding sharing needles, and always using clean ones. Only use syringes from a reliable source, and use a new, disinfected container and a new filter to prepare drugs.

    It is also advised to not share any personal items that might have blood on them, such as razors and toothbrushes, and to cover cuts and sores on the skin to keep the virus from spreading through blood or secretions.

    If you need access to clean injection drug supplies, visit http://www.nznep.org.nz/ to learn more.
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